Evonne Goolagong spent two decades away from home, which isn't
so bad when you're winning a couple of Wimbledons, four
Australian Opens and a French Open along the way. But seven
years ago, when she returned to Australia for her mother's
funeral, she experienced an epiphany on seeing the rituals of
her Aborigine people. "I realized that I had spent too much time
away," says Goolagong, 46, who had left home at 13 to pursue her
dream of a career in tennis. "I wanted to know who my parents
were, who I was."
So after winning 52 titles in 13 years on the pro tour and
living for eight more years in the U.S. with her husband, Roger
Cawley, daughter, Kelly, 21, and son, Morgan, 17, she and the
rest of the family moved to Noosa, Queensland, in 1991. "My life
became very emotional," says Goolagong, whose '93 autobiography,
Home! The Evonne Goolagong Story, was an Australian best-seller.
"I never knew what it really meant to be an Aborigine. Then two
Aborigine elders invited me to participate in a ceremony, one
where you looked deep into yourself. It was the first time I had
felt truly home."
Well, other than when she was playing on grass or clay.
Long-armed and graceful, with laser reflexes, Goolagong competed
when Billie Jean King was still near the top of her game, Chris
Evert was coming into her prime and Martina Navratilova was
beginning to evolve into the greatest female player. At no other
time had there been so much strength at the top of women's
tennis. Goolagong came out of nowhere to win the 1971 French
Open at 19 and then shocked the world again a month later when
she routed her idol, fellow Australian Margaret Court, 6-4, 6-1,
to win Wimbledon. She spent the rest of the decade trying to
replicate that glory, but despite a good deal of success and a
rivalry with Evert that illuminated the sport, she never did.
Then in 1980 she made another splash, upsetting Tracy Austin in
the semifinal and Evert in the final to win her second
Wimbledon. "When I was 19, I didn't appreciate it," she says.
"But in '80, I had a child and nobody expected much. That was
Goolagong retired three years later. She spends most of her time
establishing tennis development programs and as an advocate for
issues involving Aborigines, and she still competes in three or
four events a year on the Virginia Slims Legends Tour. "Playing
now is great fun, because the pressure isn't there," Goolagong
says. "You win, it's nice. You lose, and there are other things
to worry about. That puts the game in its place."
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN G. ZIMMERMAN [SPORTS ILLUSTRATED magazine cover featuring Evonne Goolagong]
COLOR PHOTO: SCOTT GOLDSMITH [Evonne Goolagong]
"Playing now is great fun. You win, it's nice. You lose, there
are other things to worry about."